Attorney General, A.J. Nicholson Explains the State of Public Emergency Declared by The Governor General


Under our Constitution, the Governor-General may issue a Proclamation declaring a State of Public Emergency in certain instances. For example, where a hurricane is about to strike or has struck, the Prime Minister may advise the Governor General to issue such a Proclamation, specifically for the purposes of the protection and the preservation of life and property.
This is to enable the authorities to better to carry out their duties in these circumstances. The Proclamation, according to the Constitution, should be issued for one month. However, it may be revoked before the one-month period because the situation may change.
Again, if there is a threat of rioting and looting, – and you know in our circumstances here in Jamaica, we have had a history, sadly, of looting – then the Prime Minister would be duty bound to ask the Governor-General to give these extra powers to the security forces, and other authorities to enable them to prevent these mishaps and these occurrences.
One thing we must always bear in mind is that these powers that are given to the authorities, must be exercised only for what is required for such protection of life and property. No rights are to be curtailed other than for the protection and preservation of life and property.
For example, to prevent persons from going into a dangerous zone, a place that has been cut off, normally that person would have freedom of movement. However, even for the preservation of that person’s own life, the security forces may prevent that person from doing that. If there is an imminent danger or threat for example, of looting or if there is reasonable suspicion that that is to take place, the security forces may very well curtail the movement of persons for specific periods.
But then, it is not only the security forces, who are enabled in these circumstances. Take those agencies of government that would have to clear roads, and open up closed communities and the like, they might have to commandeer equipment that is owned by private citizens and this may be done in circumstances in which otherwise, you would not be able to prevent a person from using his property even temporarily. So in these circumstances, you would be able to get supplies, for example, for ODPEM to get supplies to persons in a district that is cut off, they might need extra powers to be able to do that.
It is in these circumstances that a State of Public Emergency is contemplated by the Constitution. It is for the protection of life and property, and to enable persons to get facilities and food and the like.
It is to reassure, but it is also the duty of the government to protect, and in circumstances such as these, in particular, where electricity is off, and in the dead of night persons may get up to untoward tricks. So that is why the Constitution contemplates that this can be done.

JIS Social